How to Sneak More Activity Into Your Day


You probably know that regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It lowers your risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, depression and some cancers. But what exactly is physical activity? Is it the same as exercise? And how do you know if you're getting enough?

Physical activity is any movement that works your muscles and requires more calories than you use when resting — such as gardening, taking the stairs and dancing with friends.

Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive form of physical activity. It can include activities such as swimming laps, taking a brisk walk, aerobics classes and strength training.

For the best health benefits, it's a good idea to include physical activity and exercise in your daily routine. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits can be gained when increasing physical activity above these amounts. Aim to include strength training exercises into your exercise program at least two times a week.

Although any activity is beneficial, physical activity is most beneficial when it's intense enough to boost your heart rate, such as when doing vigorous exercise. When starting an exercise program, pick something you enjoy, perform it regularly, start slowly and gradually increase the frequency, intensity and duration of exercise in that order.

Increasing daily activities is a great way to move more. Focus on moderate-intensity activities, such as washing your car, mowing your lawn with a push mower or biking with your kids.

You don't have to include all your activity in one session. By breaking your activity up into 10-minute segments, you're still gaining the health benefits. Consider these ideas:

  • Do your desk work standing at a counter.
  • Move while watching TV. Start with commercials.
  • Vacuum your carpets and furniture.
  • Wash your floors.
  • Walk up and down every aisle in a large discount store.
  • Wash your windows.
  • Turn off your TV and take a walk.
  • Get off the bus a few blocks early or park three blocks from work.
  • If you're traveling, pack resistance bands and use them in your hotel room.

Calculating calories used

Want to know how many calories you can burn during daily activity? This list shows the estimated number of calories burned while doing some common daily activities for one hour for a person who weighs 150 pounds. Specific calorie expenditures vary widely depending on the exercise, intensity level and individual characteristics such as weight.

ActivityCalories burned in 1 hour*
Carpentry, moderate effort204
Carrying and stacking wood, light to moderate effort374
Chopping wood, moderate to vigorous effort306-428
Gardening, weeding and cultivating, light to moderate effort238
Heavy cleaning, such as washing windows or cleaning the garage238
Heavy farming, such as bailing hay, vigorous effort530
Mowing lawn with push mower340
Painting (outside of house)340
Picking fruits or vegetables, moderate effort238
Raking the lawn272
Shoveling snow360
Sweeping, vacuuming or mopping, moderate effort258
Walking the dog204

*Estimates based on a 150-pound person

Adapted from: Ainsworth BE, et al. 2011 compendium of physical activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011;43:8.

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